There’s no one cause to divorce. Researchers point to a spike in divorce between five and seven years of marriage due to high conflict and between ten and twelve years due to loss of intimacy and connection. Recently, there are more divorces seen in the “baby boomer” generation. This generation is among the first to see divorce as a more acceptable option, and more are entering this age group already divorced. Other contributing factors to all divorces include family history, anger and addictions.
Common reasons people over 50 are divorcing include anger issues, abuse, infidelity, and addiction. Many are already divorced, or have waited for the kids to be on their own before making changes. These changes stem from a mid-life crisis, or from postponing personal happiness for so long people find it an appropriate time to divorce. Plus, life expectancies are longer.
Battered by the economy and subject to longer life spans, people are left with little financial cushion. Divorce divides what people have left and taps into insurance and medical expenses, property division (including house, cars, etc.), assets and liabilities, retirement plans, and business valuations. These have to be split in an equitable way. Divorce also creates a need for additional financial spousal support.
Signs of divorce include the frequency of criticism and defensiveness leading to contempt and refusals to engage in the marriage. Here are ten of the top signs your marriage is headed for trouble.
- A wall of resentment has been built brick by brick. Depending on how the spouse handles anger and resentment, that wall is not coming down, so intimate feelings and thoughts will not survive. ”A stone is heavy and sand is weighty, but the resentment caused by a fool is even heavier” (Proverbs 27:3).
- A pattern of negative thinking about the spouse and the relationship is entrenched, so that positive feelings are no longer available. Theses quotes from Proverbs can apply to husbands and wives. ”A quarrelsome wife is as annoying as constant dripping on a rainy day. Stopping her complaints is like trying to stop the wind or trying to hold something with greased hands” (Proverbs 27:15-16). ”It is better to live alone in the corner of an attic than with a contentious wife in a lovely home” (Proverbs 21:9). “A quarrelsome person in a dispute is like kerosene thrown on a fire” (Proverbs 26:21).
- Loneliness in the relationship or an inability to have fun with each other. A good adventure can be more bonding than sex.
- Continuous criticism turns into contempt.
- One spouse suffocates another with demands.
- A spouse is continuously on the defense.
- Nearly all of one’s energy is poured into other endeavors besides the relationship.
- Someone special is waiting in the wings, or the thought is “I can do better.”
- No trust = no relationship.
- No external source of hope and commitment, such as God.
Finding repair of major negative events, along with a hope and commitment to God, is key to reap the rewards of a healthy marriage. One can look down the list and see how one step can lead to another, or each may stand alone as a barrier to being the kind of spouse one would like to be in the relationship. Henry Cloud in his book Necessary Endings requires eight conditions for trusting change.
- Involvement in a proven change process that is known to be capable of bringing results.
- There should be a “time and place” structure to the change process. i.e. “I will attend this x every week at x time.”
- New information and knowledge is specified and applied.
- New experiences, skills, and abilities. The “how” and “when” should be specified.
- Self-sustaining motivation, as opposed to being constantly pushed into change.
- The ability to say, “I need some help.”
- A support group to give energy.
- A visible process of change. This does not mean that all is well or done, but that “something” is happening.
Here is a top ten list indicators a marriage can last:
- Resentment itself is attacked, rather than the partner.
- Each partner regularly reviews the positive qualities of the other.
- Each partner guards the time it takes to have fun with the other. “Adventures” are sought.
- Needs are expressed and requested while understanding the other’s needs, rather than criticizing the other.
- Each partner is allowed to disagree, and options are generated versus insisting on one’s own way.
- Each partner is open to meeting the needs of the other.
- Energy is saved just for building the relationship.
- No one is thinking of other options for partners.
- Trust is guarded.
- Commitment itself is high priority.
The challenge in saving a marriage is overcoming negative patterns that are entrenched over time. Usually, resentments have left one of the spouses with a loss of interest in the relationship and a belief that their partner will never change. With this belief, promises for a better future are ineffective. If one spouse has lost interest in the marriage and is spending time fantasizing about the possibility of someone else (or is actually spending time with someone else) the marriage has a lower chance of recovery. Giving the disinterested partner space is associated with a better outcome than putting pressure or guilt on the disinterested partner. Instead, make personal changes more in line with the kind of spouse you would like to be. Develop your own identity and self-confidence because those changes give you the best chance at being an attractive partner and will help if divorce is unavoidable. Other considerations to save a marriage include knowing what makes you and your partner feel loved, focusing on what you appreciate about your spouse, and responding to bids for reconnection.
Conflict resolution is the most crucial aspect to rebuilding a relationship. What seems insignificant if not addressed can germinate into a tangled mess where special feelings you had for each other are lost. Avoiding criticism is crucial to avoiding the attack and defense mode, and nothing happens unless people feel understood. Looking for alternative solutions to what each side is proposing is another key. Then, make agreements, and secondary agreements that apply if the primary agreement is not kept, to build trust.
The age of the forties, fifties, and sixties is a time to redefine one’s self after raising kids, settling in a career, or to confront dissatisfaction in life. One’s marriage is often reevaluated during this time. The marriage sinks or swims. Treat your spouse like a best friend, overlook irritations, create excitement in your life and share it with your partner. Create rituals and traditions and support each other’s dreams.
Relationships, especially a marriage, are designed to change you for the better. It is to make you “holy” and “happy,” but “holy” might come first. ”As iron sharpens iron, so a friend sharpens a friend (Proverbs 27:17). “For husbands, this means love your wives, just as Christ loved the church. He gave up his life for her” (Eph. 5:25).
Workbook for recovery from affairs: